It had all the trappings of an illiicit operation. My wife, tired of the Frankenfood options being offered at our local chain grocery store, and looking to supplement what we grow on our own land,had somehow made an arrangement to purchase organic fruits and vegetables from a local farm. Now when I say local, I mean, an hour or so down the road, in another state. We know the owners of this farm because of a homeschooling event they host every year. Apparently, somehow, someway my wife had let it be known to the right people that we were in the market for some (wink wink nudge nudge) real produce.
My wife was sick, as well as the youngest so I was dispatched to pick up our produce at the regular rendezvous point. My wife gave me explicit instructions. “Go down the highway, cross the state line, go under the overpass and there is an abandoned building off to one side. Pull into the parking lot in the back between this time and this time and here’s the list. Give them my name. They only take cash.”
I ‘m not sure what I expected, but what I saw looked for all the world like we were breaking the law. The farmer and his wife had pulled into the parking lot in an unmarked truck with the license plate facing away from the road. Parked at various distances away from the truck were vehicles ranging from BMW’s to minivans, all patiently waiting their turn. The farmer stood there with mirrored sunglasses on as one by one, people came up and gave their names to his wife who would hand them a plain brown bag full of pre-arranged produce. The person paid her in cash, and walked back to their car, driving away. The farmer looked a bit confused when I came up, although it was hard to tell through the sunglasses. We knew each other peripherally , but he was expecting my wife. I gave her name, waved my cash , received my bag (ok technically it was a box) and exited the parking lot.
Part of me thought this was hilarious. I mean, these are vegetables for crying out loud. It sort of reminds me of the lady not too far from the farm that will sell you raw milk. She labels it ‘for Animal Consumption Only’, because if she doesn’t she has one less thing to keep her from going to jail. That is her ‘I tried to tell them’ defense. From what I understand, she only takes cash. Not that I would know because of course, raw milk in illegal in my state.
Illegal! Am I the only one that thinks we live in Crazy Land in which people buying milk and vegetables have to sneak aroud like they are buying crystal meth? That’s almost as crazy as putting a man in a jail cell for possession of a plant. Oh wait, never mind. Now there is that other plant that people smoke, which is not only legal, but surprisingly profitable from what I gather. Especially to government thugs who don’t plant it, pick it, dry it, bundle it, or ship it, but who tax it. Hmmm. One kind of milk is protected, while another is outlawed. One type of smokeable plant is criminal while the other is fine. Part of me doesn’t think this is so hilarious anymore.
Its obvious to me that the milk laws in my state are a result of crony capitalism in which the Big Boys have used the power of the state to limit the choices of consumers. As far produce goes, in our experience it has been worth it to either grow our own or buy from somebody we know. The produce even smells different.
What does give me hope is the slow and steady emergence of what I will call the ‘Food Underground’. It spreads by word of mouth ( for example, while I was picking up the veggies, my wife had told 2 or 3 of her friends and they will now be traveling down to the parking lot to get their illicit avocados) and seems a little more established each week. We have chickens and we have traded all sorts of things for eggs. Cash or barter, not completely untraceable, but enough below the radar screen that it gets missed. This Food Underground ( a term I intend on taking full credit for) actually strengthens communities in that it runs off on face to face contact, and recommendations, sort of like things used to be. Strangers are treated with a certain amount of reservation, just short of suspicion. I think things like this, below the radar things, are actually quite healthy. People who would buck the corporate grocery chains to get real veggies or people who would buck the milk mafia to get raw milk might be willing, if push comes to shove , to buck all kinds of other things, don’t you think?